Commuting for the beginner
In this hurly-burly world of Inter-City travel, there are few things that warm a worker's heart more than the prospect of commuting. It is a safe bet to place that at some time during your working lives, you will all have to commute (in fact, the mathematicians amongst you will have been doing this already for some time). Commuting in its very simplest essence is a journey from home to work, and back again. This simple description, however, does not convey the full joy that can be had from commuting. A typical enjoyable commuting day (and it can take a whole day just to commute) may begin as follows:

6.30am Wake up. Actually, this is totally wrong, because at that time, you're not capable of waking up. What a pity somebody didn't tell your alarm clock this! All that you are physically capable of doing is hitting the snooze button.

7.05am This is the time when you typically find that it wasn't the snooze button that you hit, but that tiny little switch that turns the alarm mechanism off. Well, I say this is the time that you find it, but in fact it's just the time that your alarm clock tells you. What you find out when you switch the radio on, is that there was a power cut for half an hour, and the time is now

7.30am The time in the morning when the bed-clothes ricochet off one wall of the room, and lie crumpled in a heap daring you to waste enough time to make the bed before you go out. Also the time when you discover you don't have enough co-ordination to open your bedroom door, nor can you remember whether said door pushes or pulls. Immediately you work this out, it is

7.40am Having spent ten minutes trying to wrestle the door back onto its hinges, you achieve terminal velocity trying to come to terms with stairs. Quite probably you would have broken your neck, if the ground hadn't broken your fall. You lie dazed and stunned outside the shower, next to the toilet. It is at this time that you make the first decision of your working day - which to enter first. You know that should you enter the shower first, you will spend most of your time knotting your legs as the running water cascades off your body, already full of liquid from the night before. So, you choose the loo. Again, this is a bad move, as you discover when it's

7.45am You enter the shower, set it to the required temperature. Immediately you turn the water on, scalding hot needles pierce the thin fabric of your skin. Obviously you have set the shower too hot. It is now time to play the thermodynamic equilibrium game. Can you balance the hot/cold settings of the shower, playing against the combined enemies of the cistern refilling, the dishwasher hot-rinsing, and the kettle being filled? Bear in mind also that the water takes some eight to ten seconds to register the changes you have made at the taps. It is like trying to juggle three red hot pokers with both hands tied behind your back, and you jaws wired together. Finally, after your refreshing shower, it's

7.55am and time for that most invigorating of activities - the early morning shave. Firstly, don't give in to that temptation to shave your tongue - it may feel as though it's covered in more dense fur than the whole of David Bellamy, but just wait till you clean your teeth! (when it'll feel as though your tongue is a cross between King Kong and a Wrigley's chewing gum factory). Having decided that it's the external part of the face you're going to shave, you choose your weapon. Five minutes later, staggering from loss of blood, a female voice comes through the door asking if it was alright to use your last razor the previous night. And finally, the after-shave. Breathe in, grit your teeth, and throw a quarter of the bottle in the vague direction of your chin. Done? Good, now let go of the light fitting, and exit the bathroom.

8.10am And you finally realize that you're going to be far too late for the train. Unless you miss breakfast. But your stomach and brain haven't got this one sorted out yet. You try for the compromise, and it is five minutes later that we find you sat on the bus, looking for all the world like an advert for Kellogg's Crunchy Nuts.

8.20am Says the platform clock, although the trains seem to be disagreeing. A voice comes over the tannoy, and the clarity amazes you - you can hear every word the announcer says. Hear, yes - understand, no. What it sounds like he is saying is "The train now stoning at platten fumf is for Lun Woo. Caw at Beran, Renpa, Newman, Women, Early, Clam Jun, Vall, and Lun Walloon.", and all spoken with clarity of a Dalek sucking a throat pastille. This announcement would be fine and dandy if it weren't for the computerized tannoy man immediately following this announcement. According to him, "The train now at platform one is for London Waterloo only. We apologize for the delay which was caused by a squirrel waving to the driver just outside Hampton Court." Even the excuses are randomized by British Rail's computers nowadays.

As the train pulls up to the platform, it's time for the first two favourite commuting games!

1) Is it my train?
Tricky one this - the best way of finding out is to play logic games with the guard, along the lines of "If I asked the other guard, would he say this was the train I don't want to get on?" However, the only blue-suited demons around are up the other end of the track, trying to stop some old lady from feeding the trains with breadcrumbs. Seasoned commuters at this point look around them to see the reaction of everyone else. If you see someone moving that you think you recognize, but can never remember being introduced to them, it's probably because they catch the same train as you. Follow them.

2) Where will my carriage stop?
Well, that all depends on what type of train it is, how good the driver's reactions are, whether he's passed his cycling proficiency test or not, and how shocked he was by the squirrel outside Hampton Court. Suffice it to say that what stops opposite you will be one of the following three things:

So, it's that old favourite, running up the track to find the only non-smoking compartment with a seat in it, only to find that it's covered in some clean, bright, new chewing gum. It is at this point that fun enters into the entire proceedings, as we play the third game.

3) Stare 'em out.
This game has its roots in primitive psychology, and is designed to put you completely at ease, while the rest of the compartment decide that you're some kind of dangerous lunatic. Choose a person at random - preferably a very attractive member of the opposite sex, as it makes what you're about to do so much easier. Now stare at them. After a very short while indeed, you will find them trying to sneak surreptitious glances at you to check whether you're still watching them. Each time they look up at you, smile at them as though you've just noticed that they have a traffic cone on their head, but you're being too polite to mention it. If you ever wanted to know what a person with acute paranoia looks like, just keep watching. Finally, before you know it, you're making an unscheduled stop. Sirens are blaring, and somebody somewhere is frantically thumping on a door. This doesn't mean anyone wants to get out - these are the guys with the stretcher who want to get in. Unfortunately, the man with the heart-attack is in first-class, who aren't going to let the ambulance men in until they can be taught to say please properly. Eventually, you arrive at Lun Walloon, and you start to play the fourth game, commonly known as

4) Running the gauntlet.

As you exit the platform, various people in different costumes walk straight towards you. The less well equipped are simply holding their hands out and asking for the price of a cup of meths. Those who have been in this game for several years are wearing a 'Save the Atlantic Anteater from the Ozone Hole and Melanoma Campaign' sweatshirt, are large enough that the print on the sweatshirt is readable, and shake their dreaded receptacles in your face. Reluctantly you realize that you are cornered, and you reach for your money. Along with your handkerchief, you pull out half the Brazilian national debt, which seems to fall straight for the open mouth of the plastic anteater the woman is carrying, and you have lost a large proportion of your overdraft. Finally feeling that you have done some good for the other oppressed animals of the world, you pass down into the bowels of the earth, ready for the magical mystery tour of some of London's oldest sewers - the Underground. The new ticket barriers are wonderful devices, designed to take a piece of card imprinted with a magnetic strip, and to shred it into a million and one brightly coloured little pieces, while shrieking violently and persuading you to seek assistance. You persuade the blue-suited goon that the confetti floating down the escalators cost you two hundred pounds, and would normally accompany the photograph that makes you out to be some kind of alien road accident. At last you hit the down escalator. It is at this point that the full horror of what you drank the previous night hits you - you realize what Maurits Escher felt when he etched those woodcuts of stairs in all feasible directions. Your mind tells you that you're standing upright, and travelling downwards, but the liquid still sloshing around the inside of your head convinces you that you are lying backwards (despite gravity to the contrary), and that the escalator is travelling at right angles to reality. Just before you fall over, the escalator reaches the bottom, and the grills that prevent you from rolling back round with the steps lacerate the toe of each shoe. Once again we play the merry little game of "Where are the doors going to stop", only on a much smaller scale, since there are no guards, no first-class, and no smoking. This should make the tube a more hospitable place, but instead you have to try and find the only compartment without a seven foot-tall psychedelic gorilla with a walkman at full volume. Finally seated, the doors close, and another crystal clear announcement rings through the train. "Due to industrial action by the man that spreads the fag-ends around the station, this train will not be stopping at your station. Repeat, this train will not be stopping at your station. Thank you." Thank you for what, that's what I'd like to know. The train pulls out, and as you approach your station the train begins to slow down. This is of little surprise to you, since it is you and a select band of people who also want to get off here that have hijacked the train. Your ticket is inspected, the lifts don't work, and you have to climb one hundred and seventeen dangerously narrow steps, and the one thought that keeps you going is this: "Only another eight hours till I have to go the other way."

The author is a computer programmer who spends much of his 'working' day commuting between Surbiton and the Elephant and Castle district of London. Of the many sights along his route are:

Beran - Berrylands Renpa - Raynes Park Newman - New Malden Women - Wimbledon Early - Earlsfield Clam Jun - Clapham Junction Vall - Vauxhall Lun Walloon - London Waterloo